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Carolina Panthers

Disappointed but not discouraged


CHARLOTTE – Head referee Gerald Wright inadvertently introduced himself to the Bank of America Stadium crowd, saying, "Hi, this is Gerald," over his mega microphone.

And when Wright announced that a routine-looking turnover would be reviewed, the crowd moaned, unaware of a new rule that mandates reviews of all turnovers.

Those weren't the only signs that the Carolina Panthers' 26-13 loss to the Houston Texans was their preseason opener.

There were opening-game gaffes to be sure, but also occasional glimpses of what could be when the Panthers open for real in a month.

"I'm just disappointed because I expected us to come out and play a little bit better than we did," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "The nice thing about it is that it is a preseason game. We will learn from this and we will get better."

Rivera must have used the word "disappointed" two dozen times in his postgame press conference. Wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu chose another word to describe Rivera's postgame mood in the locker room.

"He was embarrassed," Ajirotutu said. "We've practiced harder, we've executed better. We just didn't execute tonight. There's no reason I can point to other than saying we just didn't play well."

The reality is, sometimes that just happens in sports. A ho-hum performance is never satisfactory, but when it happens in the first of four preseason games, there's no need to turn panicky.

Besides, there were quite a few positives in defeat.

The biggest positive, something that likely would have trumped anything that possibly could have happened during the game, came before the game when the team announced a five-year contract extension for running back Jonathan Stewart

Many observers had wondered if Carolina would be able to afford to keep Stewart when his contract expired after the season, especially with the re-signing of running back DeAngelo Williams this time last season. But the Panthers decided they couldn't afford not locking up such a key cog.

"It's hard to find anybody in this building that isn't thrilled that Jonathan Stewart will be here," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. "It's a continuation of our philosophy: Try to draft well and keep your difference-making players, keep your own."

Stewart made a catch in his short time on the field that certainly caught quarterback Cam Newton's attention, a screen that Newton tossed too high but Stewart skied to corral and turned into a 13-yard gain. It came one play after Newton scrambled for 15 yards, a play that finally got the offense going after it had mustered just one net yard over its first eight plays.

Other encouraging plays followed. The defense, which struggled on the Texans' opening drive but did hold them to a field goal, forced turnovers on Houston's next two possessions.

For the third time in as many appearances in the stadium – the first two against teammates – rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly had a hand in a takeaway, stripping the ball from Texans running back Arian Foster to set up safety Sherrod Martin's fumble recovery.

The next time the Texans had the ball, linebacker Jason Phillips produced an interception, set up by quarterback pressure from sack master Charles Johnson from the left side and blitzing cornerback Captain Munnerlyn from the right.

Before and after that play, there were disappointments. After Kuechly's forced fumble and Stewart's reception set up a field goal to make it a 3-3 game, Texans wide receiver Trindon Holliday returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, a play that clearly irked Rivera more than any other.

Then in the second half, no one play can be singled out, because Rivera was disappointed by so many of them. The Panthers managed just two first downs after halftime.

"The game got away from us a little bit in the second half," Rivera said. "There are some younger guys that I expected to show up and do some things that didn't."

One second-half play, however, saved the night. Rookie wide receiver Joe Adams added the first pro punt return of note to his collection of college highlights, weaving his way to 34-yard gain that electrified the Panthers' sideline.


"Joe Adams is dynamic," Rivera said. "Hold onto your britches, because there is no telling what is going to happen with him."

There's also no telling what is going to happen with this latest installment of the Carolina Panthers, especially after one preseason game.

It's going to be fun finding out.

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